It was the first day of Yatra. Facilitators were given the task of finding their respective cohort members. I went out of the theater with ease, I thought ‘we’ll find each other somehow’. I bought a coffee in the IIT cafeteria, expecting that it had more coffee and less milch than the Yatra’s, and drank it slowly. When I got back to the theater, every group was gathered in front of their group letter. I went to group V and found about 10 guys and just one girl, Namrata. After I said I was the facilitator she looked at me with skepticism and asked if I had already met any other of the cohort members. I said no, but I know their names and phone numbers, so let’s start calling them. Namrata called each one of them and made sure that they had come to the Yatra.
When we arrived to the station to wait for the train to come I finally got to meet the rest of the cohort: Supriya, Kripa, Neha and Vinutha. There was just one participant who was still missing, she was the facilitator assistant, she was the oldest participant (25), and she had a name that was difficult for me to read: Koushiki Banerjee. Around midnight the train came up and we all boarded it and settled in our respective compartment. We all but Koushiki. Once again she was not there for a while.
I started feeling she might not be interested in getting to know the cohort, or perhaps she expects me to go and personally find her. However, I decided just to wait and trust. Ours was the last compartment, car 16/ compartment 8. I was somehow shocked with the size of the place. In that moment I realized that I had no idea of what it meant to travel in a sleeper train in India. How were we supposed to accomodate 7 people with all our baggage in such a small place? I was still thinking about it when she appeared. She said hello and started finding a place for each of our bags. I asked if she had experience in travelling on this kind of trains and she said yes, because of the fellowship.
I felt I couldn’t understand her attitude really well. Although she barely smiled, the energy with wich she was organizing the compartment, the energy with wich she was serving us, was so high that it could only be made of love. I still wondered why is it that she didn’t show up before. I asked her to share her story and that’s how I got to know about the Gandhi Fellowship. She was a Gandhi Fellow, and that’s the reason she was on the Yatra.
She’s been for more than a year living in five remote villages in the state of Rajshtan, supporting five school headmasters to bring change to the school. Although the project is focused on education, it is really about leadership and the goal is to train this young people to start the change no matter the circumstances. And she was indeed committed to being the change. I introduced myself as well, but all my credentials and achievements seemed too insignificant in comparison to a Gandhi Fellowship experience.
The next morning while I was waiting on the line to get a bath, the train stopped for a while at a station and Koushiki bought food through the window. When I came back she was already eating that food, which was absolutely banned by YJ team. I thought ‘Ok, perhaps she wants to test me’. However, I reminded myself ‘they’re adults, almost as old as I am, and they’re here because they want’. So, friendly, I asked her not to do it again and follow the rules. She said ‘ok’ and ate everything fast.
I already forgot the details and the order of events that followed. I just remember Koushiki’s audible laughter and her beautiful voice that showed all her free spirit, her creative ideas and her passion to discuss. It was only after a few days that she finally open her heart to us, and did it in the form of a box of crayons and sporadic hugs. She brought the color to our room, she opened the window to creation, poetry and expression. As a group we experienced a level of “right brain energy” that I guess no other group in the train did.
After some days I understood that the reason of her constant absents was that she had good friends on the train. I got to know them, and as well as her, they are really inspiring people, Gandhi Fellows. After that we had some really profound and sincere moments together that I will never forget.
After meeting them I have the question if they were chosen to become Gandhi Fellows because they are leaders, passionate changers, or they become leaders and artists and models because of being fellows? However what I can see is that these people are pure leadership, freedom and love. These kind of people that I want to be in a team with me.